Palestinians surround the wreckage of a vehicle following an Israeli airstrike that killed three of Hamas affiliates near Deir Al Balah, central Gaza Strip, early Saturday, 2 April 2011. (AP)
The Israeli air force launched a missile in the early hours of Saturday at a car travelling in the southern Gaza Strip, killing three members of the Hamas armed wing and wounding a fourth person.
An Israeli military spokesman said the raid, planned jointly with the Shin Bet domestic security agency, was a preemptive strike against militants planning to kidnap Israelis during the coming Jewish festival of Passover.
"An Israel air force aircraft hit a Hamas terror cell... planning to carry out kidnapping attacks in the Sinai peninsula and in Israel during the Passover holiday," he told AFP.
Hamas said in a statement that the three dead were members of the Islamist group's Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades and identified them as Ismail Lubbad, Abdullah Lubbad and Mohammed al-Dayah.
A later statement from Brigades' spokesman Abu Obeida called the kidnapping allegation "nonsense" and warned of retribution.
"If the enemy wants to play with fire, it will get burned by fire," Abu Obeida said.
The group added that one of the dead men, Ismail Lubbad, had previously been a bodyguard for Hamas leader Abdelaziz Rantissi, assassinated in a 2004 Israeli air strike in Gaza City.